Things I will never like about Mac OS X

In general, I like OS X and it’s my preferred platform. That said, I come from the VMS/Unix world originally, and from Windows more recently than that. I switched to using Macs in 2005.

That said, there are a few things I don’t like about the OS X user interface.

  • Lack of standard keyboard shortcuts.

    Unless I’m doing computer graphics, I generally prefer to use the keyboard rather than a mouse. I’m not much of a gamer except for the Civilization franchise, which I play on Windows anyway, so graphics is the main place I want a mouse. I use the Dvorak keyboard layout, which I believe has helped my repetitive stress pain. (Although Qu-any-other-vowel is a pain on Dvorak.)

    So I’m not fond of the Mac menu bar with no accelerators to bring up a menu and peruse it. Windows/GTK+/KDE have standardized mechanisms for bringing up a menu. OS X has a very fine feature for allowing the user to map any key sequence to any menu command in any application. This is great, and I use it. But it doesn’t work for top-level menus, only for actual termini, and there are sometimes functions you can’t get to without the mouse. Check out Safari 4′s forward and back buttons with multiple tabs and try to find a menu item that does that.

  • Application-centric rather than document-centric interface.

    I also think that Microsoft got one right with Office 97 when they moved from an application-centric interface to a document-centric interface. The standard pre-Office 97 had been that the Office apps looked like ports from the Mac in that they used the old MDI frame, where each Word document or Excel document would be an internal frame within a larger top-level frame that actually had the menu bar. If you ran with Word maximized, the experience was not unlike that of using a Mac.

    I actually called Microsoft tech support to complain about the new look in Office 97 and they explained the move to a document-centric interface. After a little while I decided I liked it. I still do.

    I don’t really care whether my documents are Word, Pages, web pages, PDF, or any other app. I prefer to treat them all as simply documents on my screen. I expect the Alt-Tab (or Cmd-Tab on OS X) to switch between documents instead of between applications. This is especially true if you run X Windows on OS X. To the OS, all the apps in X are X applications. You need to use Cmd-` to switch between them. But as far as I’m concerned, they’re different applications running on different systems.

    Fortunately, there is Witch, a system preference add-on that allows window-based application switching. It is fairly customizable and I think it’s a great app, even though it’s not yet available in a 64-bit version, so System Preferences has to restart in 32-bit mode to get to its pane to customize it.

    Unfortunately, the Dock owns the Cmd-Tab key (and Cmd-Shift-Tab) so you can’t override it.

    Fortunately, there is an Application Enhancer plugin called “Pull-tab” that releases the Cmd-Tab keys and lets you assign them to Witch. Unfortunately, Application Enhancer simply doesn’t work on Snow Leopard yet. It doesn’t crash, it just doesn’t load. I’m sure that a month or so before the release of OS X 10.7, Unsanity will release a version that works on 10.6 (Snow Leopard).

  • No keyboard launch of applications.

    I’m also not a big fan of the Dock, because it’s mouse-oriented. But there is Launch Bar, which allows me to ignore the Dock and launch applications with just a few (usually no more than three) keystrokes. I really like that.

Those are the main things I will never like about Mac OS X.

And of the three complaints, two are fixable, with the temporary exception of rebinding Cmd-Tab on Snow Leopard. If you’re using Tiger or Leopard you’re fine. And you can always bind Opt-Tab instead of Cmd-Tab for the time being, though it makes it unusable in VMWare with Linux or Windows.

I could complain about the lack of a right mouse button on the laptop trackpads, but the two finger tap on the newer laptops is almost as good.

And for the rest of the experience, OS X is a much nicer experience than Windows.

One Comment

  1. Ciprian says:

    I can say about third point you can use either: Command + Space (to launch Spotlight and write three letters and then write those three letters or use Quicksilver).

    In rest I found the oddities of the keyboard setups.

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